Home » Budget Industry » Navy Medical Corps Worries Future Funding Cuts Will Result in Fewer Doctors

Navy Medical Corps Worries Future Funding Cuts Will Result in Fewer Doctors

Lt. Cmdr. Joanne Elston assists with surgery on a simulated casualty during an Expeditionary Medical Facility (EMF) training course at Naval Expeditionary Medical Training Institute (NEMTI). US Navy Photo

The Navy’s push for a more lethal force could route money away from the service’s cadre of medical professionals, USNI News has learned.

Service medical community leaders at the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery (BUMED) are worried a Department of Defense plan will reduce the number of military medical personnel across all service branches, possibly as early as the Fiscal Year 2020, according to command guidance viewed by USNI News.

The BUMED guidance explains that DoD officials are considering the military medical billet reduction as part of the Program Objective Memorandum (POM) 2020. Each service branch is to manage how they reduce their medical staffs.

“We expect many of the billet cuts to the Navy medical department will be re-invested in other Navy priorities and communities that increase lethality,” the BUMED guidance stated.

The total number of billet cuts under consideration is not known, according to the BUMED guidance. Navy Medicine has about 63,000 personnel providing health care around the globe to active duty sailors and Marines, their families and veterans, according to the Navy.

The possibility of cutting the number of medical personnel comes at a time Navy leadership routinely talks about growing the force. The Navy finished FY 2018 with 329,851 active duty personnel, according to the Department of Defense. The Navy is authorized to have 335,400 active duty personnel, according to the FY 2019 National Defense Authorization Act.

During the next couple of decades, as the Navy’s fleet expands to a planned 355 ships, more sailors will be required to operate the additional ships entering service. When asked how possible cuts to Navy medical staffing levels will affect the readiness of a Navy with more personnel, BUMED officials directed all future budget questions to the Navy’s Office of Information.

For now, any talk of pending Navy medical staff reductions in the negotiations for the Navy’s future Program Objective Memorandum (POM) are premature, Navy spokeswoman Lt. Lauren Chatmas told USNI News.

“Anything you may have seen about POM-20 are just options as we strive to find the best balance to support the defense strategy while also being responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars. This is what the POM process is for – to review all accounts in determining the best balance of investments,” Chatmas said.

However, Navy medical leaders expect the possible funding cuts will reduce staff in operational medical capabilities – such as expeditionary medical facilities – and reduce the scope of services available at facilities across the military health system, according to the BUMED guidance.

A reduction in funding for graduate medical education and other medical training programs was singled out by BUMED leaders as one cut they intend to fight. The Navy is months away from finalizing its contribution to DoD’s POM-20, but BUMED is already creating a strategy to “request partial restoral of POM-20 issue cuts; especially Student/Training accounts,” according to the BUMED guidance.

  • jetcal1

    Whatever the Navy does, DO NOT count on commissioned medical personnel in the reserves.

  • Centaurus

    DOCTOR 3 PO to the Burn Unit ! STAT !

    • Allan Erickson

      Star Trek Voyager- a holo-doc. Worked OK for them although he was an irritating smartass.

  • DaSaint

    With 63,000 serving approx. 330,000 Navy personnel and 185,000 Marines, that’s about 12% of all personnel in medical fields. I could see how they may want to address that somewhat, taking it down to 10% or slightly less.

    • Marc Apter

      The same people who said the military didn’t need non-combat troops, and then complained about no one available to secure Iraq after we won that war, and gave out contracts to big corporations at ridiculous costs, are now deciding to do the same thing again. And in both cases, the politicians deciding never served in combat.

      • DaSaint

        I understand your point. But the administration just told DOD to cut their next budget from $733B to $700B. That’s 4.5%. Where do you make the cut? Combatants? SWOs? Aviators? Aircraft? The answer is probably everyone has to take some form of a haircut. Will it make an appreciable difference? Dunno.

        • Sneezerdoc

          We could easily save a boatload of $ by getting rid of third party contacting agencies. Do the hiring ourselves. Stop overpaying folks on TAD. You don’t need $70 a day per diem. That is ridiculous.

          • DaSaint

            Every dollar reallocated helps.

  • old guy

    An approach might be to subsidize the very expensive medical education on the basis of 2 years service for each year in med school (including appropriate specializaton, like surgery). Some time after, in the reserve, might also be appropriate.

    • Refguy

      Don’t we already do this?

      • old guy

        I don’t believe so. My son was offerred something like this, years ago, for his exceptional performance as a neuro-surgical tech. He turned it down.

        • Refguy

          From your reply, it sounds like we used to send people to med school in return for a service commitment; I wasn’t aware we had stopped.

          • Allan Erickson

            Isn’t this what USUHS does? Allows the DOD to grow its own docs.

          • Refguy

            Agreed; my collective “we” was intended to apply to DoD, not just DoN

    • yxc

      Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) does exactly this already. It is DoD wide, but currently each service administers HPSP for their own medical corps. For physcians HPSP pays full tuition + a stipend for (usually) 4 years of med school and officer owes the military 4 years of working as a doctor. Work while in post graduate training does not count towards the obligation. About the fastest way the obligation can be served is in 5 years after graduation, but longer is typical.

  • Murray

    This is not a new problem. During the 1991 Gulf War, allied/friendly medical personnel served alongside US Navy medics aboard the US hospital ships Comfort and Mercy. Ultimately, their services were largely unnecessary due to a much lower number of casualties than was anticipated.
    Naval humanitarian operations involving US and allied/friendly ships are a useful way to practise medical skills which might be required in the future.

  • Sneezerdoc

    POM20 has spooked the docs…. The divestiture is bad but the voluntary Exodus given the uncertainty will result in DoD needing to spend more $$ to attract doctors and quality will suffer. This whole plan was not well thought out.